Happy Birthday Tribute to Magic Johnson and His Greatest Moments
Some things never get old.
Through all 13 years of his illustrious career, he showed us greatness. He won five championships, was selected to 12 All-Star games (played in 11), earned three finals MVPs and two league MVPs. From the moment he stepped foot on the court as a rookie in 1979, he made a difference.
Others have been compared to him, but really, there has yet to be another player like Magic. His innovative fast-break maneuvers, clutch shots and general passing acuity trumps that of almost everyone else ever.
Fortunately for us, most of Magic's accomplishments, big and small, were captured on video. Many of the things he did are available for our viewing pleasure and, more importantly, at the ready for us to relive.
Happy Birthday, Magic.
Rookies Can Be Iconic Too
One play isn't always enough.
Everything about Magic's performance in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals needs to be revered, especially on his birthday.
With Abdul-Jabbar sidelined by an ankle injury and Spencer Haywood suspended, the 6'9" rookie was forced to play center. He played guard and forward as well. He may have also taught a history class beforehand, I'm not really sure. All I know is he wore many hats that day.
En route to leading the Lakers to a Game 6 victory and the NBA title Magic scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out seven assists, earning finals MVP honors. At the age of 20. As a rookie. Wow.
Going as far back as 1985, no player (aged 20 or younger) is on record for having notched at least 40 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in the same game. Not LeBron James. Not Kobe Bryant. No one. And yet Magic did it on one of the biggest stages possible while playing every position.
Magic Loses Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan wasn't perfect.
Following a missed jumper, Jordan attempted to get back on defense. He had to know how dangerous the Lakers were in transition, after all.
Vlade Divac grabbed the rebound and fed it to Magic. Jordan was either going for the steal or a charge (or both), and then all of a sudden, he was left behind.
In the blink of an eye, Magic eludes Jordan, much to His Airness' chagrin. To top off the play, he found a sprinting Divac for one of his 10,141 career assists.
As far as Magic highlights go, this is one of the most underrated ones out there. Escaping a spry Jordan on defense wasn't easy. When he went for the ball, he wouldn't necessarily get it, but there would be contact or a foul; you wouldn't get past him.
Well, Magic used agility, finesse and some would say super-human powers to get past him.
A great moment by a great player if I ever saw one.
Dropping Dimes While on His Back
Some passes you make, and some passes you don't. The latter never applied to Magic.
It didn't matter where he was on the floor, where you were on the floor or where anyone was looking, defenders included. So long as he had the ball in his hands and there were teammates on the court, he was going to drop dimes.
Even when he was hitting the floor, almost committing a turnover, he was always aware of his surroundings. Like this particular play above.
After nearly coughing it up, and then ultimately coughing it up, Magic stole the ball and shot a bounce pass toward Kurt Rambis for an easy two—from a seated position. Essentially on his back, he still had the good sense to thread the needle under his defender.
I'm not sure what's more impressive, the "steal" or the pass itself. Let's just agree it was a potentially disastrous play turned amazing.
The No-Look to Byron
Upon sifting through hours of tape on Magic, it becomes clear he preferred to look at anyone other than his intended passing target.
No-look dimes were a staple of his. Instances in which he faked defenders out and fooled the entire arena in the process happened daily. Byron Scott knows what I'm talking about.
Here, Magic leads the break as per usual and appears as if he will pass towards his right. His hand, the angle of the ball and everything else about this play screams "right."
Naturally he fired left to an open Scott, who drained the mid-range jumper.
Whenever you expected Magic to do something, he always seemed to do the opposite. I personally have no idea how he was able to a) be so methodical, b) improvise so well and c) seemingly do both at the same time.
Watching him, even today, is still puzzling—in a good way.
Double Overtime Greatness
"This is reaction time."
Trailing by one with three seconds to go in a double-overtime bout against the Denver Nuggets, Magic didn't have the opportunity to think. There wasn't enough ticks left on the clock for him to think.
So he reacted.
Catching the inbounds pass from Michael Cooper, Magic dribbled to his right before chucking up a long three. Although he was well defended, he buried it at the buzzer to give the Lakers a 148-146 victory.
Overtime accolades make great stories. Like the announcer says, if you fail to get a shot off, it will be talked about "for the rest of your life."
Sounds like hyperbolic gibberish to some end, but there's a shred of truth to it. Clutch moments make the superstar, and fewer moments are as crucial than the waning seconds of a six-period long contest.
Given the opportunity, Magic reminded us all why he was touted the way he was. Not that he had to.
Magic wasn't all crafty passes and stylish finishes. He was good for the occasional heave as well.
With the first half winding down during a Western Conference Semifinals bout with the Golden State Warriors, Magic grabbed the rebound off an air ball. Then he hurled it nearly the length of the entire court as the buzzer sounded, and drilled it.
This wasn't your average two-handed prayer either. Magic tossed this one football style, which let's face it, is far more impressive.
On his career meter, this one registers as epic. It was something different, a shift away from his normal—though equally incredible—highlights.
That it happened during the playoffs against a division rival makes it all the more tribute worthy.
The Spin and Dish
Spinning and winning—the Magic Johnson way.
Immediately after he shook his defender loose with a quick 360-degree turn, three defenders began to close on him. That was a mistake. Magic dished out of traffic to find a waiting James Worthy.
What makes this one of his most impressive plays isn't necessarily the pass itself. He had made more complicated, show-stomping passes before. Rather, it was how he did it.
Four defenders tried to stop him. Four. Eighty percent of the Detroit Piston's available man power came at him and failed. Just insane.
In the above video, Worthy said there never used to be a "rhyme or reason" to Los Angeles' fast-break sets in those days. They just ran with it.
Courtesy of Magic's masterful ball-handling and quick-footed maneuvers, those transitional free-for-alls often ended like this.
Running Bank Sends Celtics Home Unhappy
Magic had a knack for putting through running shots at the buzzer. The Boston Celtics know this all too well.
Less than a year after shattering the Celtics' 1987 title hopes (spoiler), Magic decided to put yet another game out of their reach.
Down by one with three seconds to go, Magic hit a running one-legged, weak-side bank shot to give the Lakers the victory as time expired. If you're thinking he barely had time to line up his shot, I'm right there with you. Because he didn't.
Robert "The Chief" Parish was running at him, and Magic just turned and fired, like he had so many times before. And the ball went in, like it had so many times before.
"I couldn't believe it went," said Darren Daye, who was watching from the Boston bench at the time, according to the Los Angeles Times' Gordon Edes. "It was an absolute prayer."
Prayer, or Magic being Magic?
43-Foot Bounce Pass
Before LeBron James was throwing touchdown-esque passes to Dwyane Wade, Magic was intentionally grounding his way toward plenty of assists.
Not that airborne passes that travel the length or close to the length of the floor aren't impressive. Bounce passes sent from one area code to the next are just better.
Magic incorporated bounce passes like no one else in the NBA. From entry-style deferments to fast-break opportunities, he'd pound the ball across the hardwood to set up his teammates.
Floor generals don't do that anymore, nor have they ever. Not like Magic, which is why his "43-foot" laser to teammate Worthy is still so ridiculous.
Prior to crossing the timeline, Magic split two defenders with a bouncing bullet. It landed right in the hands of a running Worthy who finished at the rim for an easy bucket.
Accounting for the various factors at play—the defense, Worthy's speed, his speed, the angle, etc.—Magic somehow managed to put the ball where it needed to be.
To deem this "incredible" would be an injustice.
A Dash of Kareem
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wasn't the only one who knew how to put in a hook shot.
Down 106-105 to the Boston Celtics with seven seconds remaining in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals, Magic went to work.
He caught the inbounds pass in the weak side corner. After holding the ball for a second or too, he put it on the floor. At one point he looked like he was going to pull back for a jumper or one of his quick passes. Instead, he dribbled towards the center of the floor and drained a right-handed hook with just two seconds left on the clock.
This was definitely one of the smoothest hook shots ever. You can actually hear the ball rip through the bottom of the net.
Los Angeles went on to win the game, the importance of which should be lost on no one. Had the Lakers fell here and then dropped Game 5 like they did, they would have found themselves facing elimination in Game 6.
Thanks to Magic, they found themselves in position to win it all in Game 6 instead. Which they did.